Equipping Your Reimagine Journey
#ItSeemsToMe...COVID Pandemic Exposes Church Identity Crisis
"The church is a building."
Not in the holy scriptures. Not to the earliest Christ -followers.
But the mind of everyone who hears or reads or speaks the word, "church" produces a mental image of a building. We go to church. We build a church. We meet at the church.
And this tragic truth is ubiquitous despite the reality that you and I know "church" refers to people; a "called-out" community of faith. This mistake persists even though we teach and preach that throughout the Bible, the people of God are identified as an assembly, a body, a family, a household. We the people, are the Church; not the building.
Yet, our incorrect use of the term has become indicative of the way we experience church. In a building. Watching a platform-centered program formatted by a select and very small team of experts. Persons gifted in public speaking, singing, instrumentation, creative arts, technology. An audience, often listening in a space called an auditorium.
Congregations are designed, regardless of denomination or tradition, to reset every seven days. Small groups may meet at varying times. All may be invited to a prayer meeting during the week. But a church that cannot regroup, face-to-face, on a weekly basis has not been prepared nor does it have in place systems for connecting and communicating in case of an unprecedented emergency. Such as a pandemic that forces the closure of large group meetings or events for an extended period df time.
Church, as we know it, is designed for the members/attenders to be in their seats, not scattered into the streets.
Our unprecedented virus-crisis is exposing how our understanding of the word "church" has become a description of how we function. In a building. Listening.
My fear is many pastors are uncertain of how to shepherd the flock that does not return weekly to the room where they receive inspiration and instruction. I wonder if church leaders are rethinking how to motivate and mobilize the people of God without calling them together into a facility? Can we hope Christ-followers are daily, on their own, leaning into the spiritual disciplines of worship, prayer, scripture, service?
Simply making plans (and there are plenty to be made) to merely reopen church, may actually be a step backwards. The desire to return to what was once considered normal, as comfortable as that sounds, may prevent us from an opportunity for "church" to "be transformed by the renewing of our minds" (Romans 12:2)
The Church is experiencing an identify crisis. We are in need of a new architectural-nomenclature that prompts an image, less on building (noun) and more on building (verb). Less on the meetings led by the professionals and more on the movements of the people of God into their neighborhoods and across their communities. Form and function must expand. Systems and strategies must be reimagined.
The danger of this virus-crisis is no longer limited to a physical disease that is causing tens of thousands of deaths. Every sector of family and society are being affected: the economy (local business, national retailers, multi-national corporations), education (schools at every age and degree level), health care (from hospitals to adult care centers), entertainment (cancelled concert tours to social distancing at the movies to empty sports stadiums).
We are watching these sectors scramble to adjust in order to keep from going out of business. In the process, they are designing different systems of operating, offering new and different options better suited to serve their customers or clients with radically different daily routines. Curbside service. Working from home. Online education. Grocery delivery. Voting by mail. FaceTime Family game nights (with cousins across the country).
Staying in place is pushing us to rethink how we shop, work, learn, and connect socially.
My fear, is for the congregations that will be satisfied to reopen, hoping, maybe even praying, those who do return will be happy with what was.
Will we discover many people who identify as Christians unable to function without their regular Sunday gathering or weekly face-to-face group? Worse yet, will we see the disappearance of many who choose not to return to former weekly routines? "Done" joining the Nones? Have pastors adjusted by convening leadership (online or social distanced) to pray into the unknown new normal? Have the shepherds made personal (phone, email) contact with their members/attenders to simply listen to them share their needs and fears; their spiritual discoveries? Have church leaders called the church to weekly or daily prayer? Has anyone formatted their Sunday/weekend online service to include interaction (questions, prayer, interviews, testimonies), or are the people of God pretty much on their own?
May we not be too busy pursuing what it takes to survive at the expense of praying into what can be done in order to actually thrive. The Church is led by the Lord Jesus Christ, our redeemer. We must not be content to pray little prayers, begging God to simply help us stay in business. We should be thanking the Lord he can take what is meant for evil and not just make it better but turn it into a greater good. We should be asking the Holy Spirit to open our minds and hearts to new schedules and systems, objectives and opportunities.
To reopen without a fresh reimagining of what it means to be church quenches the renewing work of the Holy Spirit, who is ready, willing and able to transform us to perceive our new normal as a new chapter in the mission and ministry of the Church. Five hundred years after the Reformation, we find ourselves in the midst of what may one day be called the Transformation.
None of this demands a revision of theology. Our biblically based beliefs remain intact, but with a renewed fervor to bring fresh discernment and wisdom to how we apply scriptural truth to our calling, our mission. For such as time as this, the Spirit may lead us to pursue a radically different vision, or to resume our pursuit of ministry but in a radically different way.
Our faithfulness to the scriptures does not demand an equally high allegiance to the methods we have used to live out that mission. In fact, to refuse to review and renew is the beginning of becoming mechanical, stuck on previously effective methodology, imprisoned in a comfort zone, at the very time we have the opportunity to build a "church" that is movemental.
It Is Critical We Commit NOW To #ReimagineCHURCH...
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NOTE: Posted on Pray.Network by Dr. Dan Crawford
Times have changed. People are staying home from church services in record numbers – and blaming the COVID virus. History has shown when we are forced by circumstances to change, we eventually get comfortable with the change, and even prefer the new methods to the old. John Cage, an American composer, artist, and philosopher, confessed, “I can’t understand why people are frightened by new ideas. I’m frightened of old ones.”
Most churches I know have recovered approximately half of their pre-pandemic attendance, while experiencing positive numbers of online viewers. The fear is that folks have become so comfortable worshipping at home, in their pajamas, seated in their recliner, sipping their coffee that they will not choose to return to personal worship attendance. If that happens, churches will need new ideas. Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote, “Wise men put their trust in ideas and not in circumstances.” What will the post-pandemic church look like? Most will need to learn how to do online worship with greater excellence. We may need to train telephone and media counselors to deal with online responses during the worship service and especially during the response time. Some facilities may need to be reconfigured. More emphasis on home groups could be needed. A study of effective media ministry ideas could be time well spent.
I once taught a Seminary course entitled, “The Use of Media in Evangelism,” but it was an elective course and few students saw the need to register for it. Seminaries and Bible Colleges may need to reinvent that course or one similar to it, perhaps make it a requirement. The future could be very different from the past. We’ll need to pray our way through it.
Which reminds me that according to my research for America’s National Prayer Committee, approximately 95% of Seminaries and Bible Colleges do not have a separate course on prayer in their curriculum. It’s time to add such. Only then will we be able to understand Paul’s wish for young Timothy, “May the Lord give you understanding in all things” (2 Timothy 2:7).
From our friends at Facts $ Trends...
3 TRUTHS COVID UNCOVERED ABOUT THE CHURCH
Facts & Trends - December 30, 2020
By Michael Kelley
Imagine an apple sitting on your counter. You go to the garage and get a vise and then put the apple inside it. Then you start turning the handle, and the vise starts tightening. It gets tighter and tighter and the apple gets thinner in the middle and fatter on the ends until it looks like it’s about to burst.
This is what’s happening right now. The virus? The social distancing? The quarantine? These things are squeezing us. Squeezing our patience; our budgets; our nerves; our faith. Tighter, tighter, tighter—until we feel like we’re going to explode.
It’s like Bilbo Baggins said to Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”
Of course, if you kept tightening the vise around the apple it would eventually burst. And maybe you, too, know what that bursting feels like; it’s when something small that ordinarily shouldn’t have bothered you as much as it did just sets you off. And you find yourself overreacting to that single incident because of the accumulated pressure from the other circumstances.
Back to the apple, though. It’s important to notice in this illustration what comes out when the apple does burst: the stuff that was inside all along. Nothing new. Nothing foreign. And the same thing is true of us.
Being squeezed, as we are now, doesn’t cause anger, or frustration, or doubt, or worry, or whatever; those things have been in our hearts all the time. The stress only reveals what’s always been there.
Perhaps that’s one of the redemptive purposes of this pressure. It’s that when we find ourselves reacting to stress, we are able to see a clearer picture of our hearts. This season might be revealing at least three things in us.
1. OUR BASIS OF SECURITY
One of the reasons we feel stressed is because we feel threatened. Our livelihood, our comfort, our future—these are weighty things. And circumstances that threaten our security in these matters cause us to feel no small measure of fear and anxiety.
When a circumstance is causing is stress it ought to make us question where our true security lies. What we might find is that we’re trusting more in our 401K than the Lord who owns cattle on a thousand hills.
2. OUR SECRET SINS
If you head over to the WebMD website you can find all kinds of coping mechanisms for stress. Things like exercise, breathing techniques, and games that occupy the mind. Those are good things, I think, but most of us don’t turn that way.
Instead, we just react. We get angry. Or frustrated. Or bitter. Or we turn to something else that makes us feel better in the moment. In any case, the lure toward specific sinful habits and behaviors has always been in our hearts. Stress only focuses the image for us to see them more clearly.
3. OUR SOURCE OF JOY
It’s a tough thing to be happy when you feel stressed. You’re constantly thinking about the circumstance that’s making you worry. It occupies your field of vision, and it seems you can’t look away even if you want to.
But joy isn’t rooted in circumstance. Not really. It’s rooted in Jesus. So if we find that periods of stress are robbing us of our joy, then we have an opportunity to remind our souls that true, lasting, sustainable joy can only flow from the true fountain of living water that doesn’t run dry.
These are just a few of the things being exposed in all of us. And yet along with these things, there’s also an opportunity being exposed. It’s an opportunity not just to patch the cracks in our own lives so that we can return to some notion of normal, but instead to rethink what once was. To take these points of exposure, admit them, repent of them, and then rebuild.
This is especially true for leaders in the church who are not only seeing these things exposed in their own lives but in the lives of congregation member after member.
From the perspective of the church leader, there are even more points of exposure—exposure of what people really believe about the necessity of the church, the importance of discipleship, and the nature of their connection and relationships with the body of Christ.
Every church leader has the same opportunity on behalf of their congregation that they have for themselves. We can either sit in the middle of the exposure and long for what was, or we can recognize that at least part of “what was” was built on sand. If we’re courageous enough to recognize that, then we would do well to see these points of exposure as opportunities to make the foundation more sure.
These are stressful days, friends. Of course they are. But they can also be days of reflection. Days of revelation. And ultimately, days of opportunity. As the old saying goes: What’s down in the well comes up in the bucket.
God is at work, even in these moments of difficulty to show us our hearts. And when He does, we can be sure we can turn to Him in repentance and faith, knowing we will find a Savior whose yoke is easy and burden is light who stands ready to have our cares cast upon Him.
MICHAEL KELLEY (@_MichaelKelley) is vice president of church ministries for LifeWay Christian Resources.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are more likely to trust medical professionals, while few believe pastors are completely honest.
We are also hosting 3 different six-week classes for denominational/network leaders and I would love to invite you to hear more about them.
David is hosting 2 identical zoom calls with more information today and tomorrow at 2:30 CST.
Here is the link, if you can join us for either of the (identical) calls.
Topic: David Ferguson / Care4Pastors Trainer opportunities
Time: Jan 25 & 26, 2021 02:30 PM Central Time (US and Canada)
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Meeting ID: 337 975 2208
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